Can Graded Exercise Testing Predict Risk of Death?

Cardiologists at John Hopkins have been able to take the data from a graded exercise test, run it through a newly developed algorithm, and estimate one’s risk of dying over the next ten years. Um…wow! It’s remarkable and a tad bit unsettling at the same time.

Let’s back up. Graded exercise testing (also known as stress testing) has been used for decades to measure a person’s exercise capacity and therefore analyze how healthy the circulatory and respiratory systems are. Poor results might mean heart disease or even reveal neurological problems.

And it’s not just the medical professionals who use graded exercise testing as a tool, but exercise physiologists. Exercise labs use treadmill tests on athletes for training purposes. The results can be used to tweak workout regimens and improve performance (and athletes LOVE to know their VO2 max, right?).

New twist, same advice?

So, before the new formula (which they are calling the FTT Treadmill score), an individual who performed poorly on a stress test was probably going to be told they need to exercise more, along with medical interventions, if needed. With FTT, they’d probably still be told they need to exercise more, but the urgency is quantified. This much exercise, this much reduction in risk.

But it’s more than that.

The researchers note:

  • The new FIT Treadmill Score reveals more nuanced levels of fitness for those scoring in the “normal” range
  • Unlike the either/or nature of past results (normal/abnormal results, at risk/not at risk), the FIT Treadmill Score does a better job assessing where the person is on the spectrum of cardiovascular disease
  • Describing one’s risk in terms of “death odds” may be highly motivating in getting people to start exercising and getting in shape

It remains to be seen whether simply handing people their score from the FTT treadmill score will produce changes toward more healthy habits.